NSF Grant Goes to Biology Professor
October 31, 2006
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. - Illinois Wesleyan University Associate Professor of Biology Will
Jaeckle is part of a team awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study
deep-sea invertebrates in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The four-year project
will provide student research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom for
Jaeckle, who conducted similar research in Antarctica in 2004 and again this year,
is teaming with scientists from the University of Oregon and its Oregon Institute
of Marine Biology (OIMB) in the grant project, which will include three cruises to
the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas. The group will study organisms dwelling on the
ocean floor and their microscopic developmental stages (called larvae) that live in
the overlying water column. The $72,000 NSF grant award will offer Illinois Wesleyan
students the opportunity to participate in the research cruises and to study collected
and cultured larvae that will be reared in IWU labs. Details about how many students
will be involved or the date of the first cruise-in spring or summer 2007-are yet
to be finalized.
The grant research will examine how the free-living larvae, which develop deeper in
the ocean than light can penetrate, get their food. The adults live at depths as great
as 3,000 feet (or 1,000 meters); if their larvae manage to ascend to depths above
1,000 feet where single-celled plant-like organisms are available for food, how are
they getting the energy to fuel that trip?
"It's a long way to travel, vertically, for a small larva," Jaeckle says. "There's
simply very little information about the feeding biology of developmental stages of
deep-sea animals. We want to study aspects of their biology by addressing such questions
as 'Can they capture food, if so, how do they, and what forms of food are exploited?'"
Because the larval stage is the most vulnerable time in an organism's life cycle,
anything that happens during this developmental period influences the size of the
next generation, Jaeckle says.
"I'm really lucky to be able to work with animals from unusual environments -- animals
that are rarely seen. The extremes of their environment-it's dark, it's cold, there's
not predicted to be a lot of food-offer some interesting questions about how these
little guys make their living, and how they've adapted to such an environment. That's
what we're trying to find out."
While later cruises will involve the use of submersible vessels to collect adult species
from the ocean floor, next year's cruise will collect larval forms at 100-meter depth
intervals by towing a specially designed net. The device is called a "multiple opening
closing net environmental sampling system," whose acronym MOCNESS sounds enough like
Loch Ness, the fabled underwater monster, to suggest marine researchers' sense of
Jaeckle's previous research has included cruises to study similar animals in Antarctica,
and his excitement about the Bahamas work isn't based on its warmer climate.
"Deep-sea and Antarctica are both very interesting environments. In some ways, the
larvae have similar challenges, because there is little food in the water in the winter
in Antarctica, because the days are so short and the sea is covered by ice. In the
same fashion, below 1,000 feet, there's very little light penetration to support what
we call phytoplankton, or single-celled plant-like organisms. It would be very interesting
to see if we could find common morphological adaptations or even common physiological
adaptations" among invertebrate larvae in both Antarctic and deep-sea environments.
Jaeckle's collaborators on the project are principal investigator Craig Young, director
of the OIMB; Richard Emlet, professor of biology at the OIMB; and Michelle Wood, professor
of biology and director of the Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the
University of Oregon.
Contact: Ann Aubry, (309) 556-3181